Tag Archives: inner healing

Remembering is Honoring

Once a year, I return home to Central Texas.  This year we choose to come home for Christmas.  As we moved from the metropolitan east coast culture into the small town rural Texas, I began to see reminders of my father everywhere.  The Roadrunner Café reminded me of how much my dad always liked road runners.  The excessive number of country music stations reminded me of my father’s love of Johnny Cash.  The slower pace reminded me of how his truck crawled down the main drag with him making a point to wave at every car we passed.   The Santa sleigh pulled by six armadillo’s atop the pizza parlor reminded me of my father’s obsession with armadillos.  Horned toads, cactus, bluebonnets, anything Texan all brought a sudden rush of pain and grief. 

Though I spent the first seventeen years of my life in this small central Texas community and for first thirty years of my life called this place “home”, the only emotion I feel now, is pain and grief over my father’s suicide.  My father was born, raised, and died is this small town.  He spent his entire life building a small chain of fast food restaurants called Storm’s Drive In.  I spent many hours at that restaurant rolling salt napkins before and after school.  I loved going there and working with my dad.  Rather than a smile filling my face at the sight of the Storm’s brightly colored billboard, tears fill my eyes.  It has been eleven years since his death and the sense of doom still hangs over this place; this place that is still home to my mother whom I dearly love; this place where I spent my happy carefree childhood years.

I was listening to music on my morning walk through a pasture behind my mother’s ranch.  I had stopped atop an embankment surrounding a dry tank to look out over the small town in the distance when I realized the chorus of the song I was listening to was “Remembering is Honoring”.  I began to listen to the words and realized that the author was remembering a loved one who had passed.  The words “Remembering is honoring” echoed in my mind as I pondered the meaning.  For eleven years, I had chosen to forget; to cut myself off from the pain by cutting myself off from this place.  In so doing I cut myself off from the memories of a good father, and a happy childhood.  As I choose to forget no more, the tears streamed down my face and I prayed for the pain to stop and for healing.  Slowly, the clouds of grief, shame and regret began to lift and I found peace.  I decided I will choose to honor my father by remembering and I pray someday I will be able to dance the two-step and smile at the memory of standing atop my father’s giant boots as we swayed to a Loretta Lynn tune.

We all have painful memories in our lives and like me, many people choose not to remember, to cut themselves off from the pain by cutting themselves off from the source of the pain.   However, when we refuse to recognize the wounds we have endured, we are unable to heal those wounds.   I will always bear the scar of my father’s suicide; it has marked me for life.  However, I can now look at it and it cannot hurt me anymore. 

For many, the memories that are lost are all so ugly and there is nothing worth honoring.  For many a simple prayer and a few tears, only serve as salt in a deep festering wound. For these the path is long and the journey far more difficult than mine.  But the reward is equally as sweet and the healing just as liberating.   For my dear friends who suffer so greatly, I pray for Devine grace and mercy to make you whole, to heal your wounds and restore you to a place of peace and rest.  I pray someday you too can choose to remember and find healing from your past. 

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Mental Health and Spirituality

Historically Christians have struggled with mental health and how to care for those who suffer from mental illness.  I was recently read a blog post by a pastor whose wife suffered from severe bouts of depression.  He reached out to his fellow ministers and asked for advice.  The first response was that his wife needed to go to a healing service, then others chimed in about the need for her to spend more time in prayer and meditation, then another suggested she was under attack by a demonic spirit and needed to have that spirit cast out.  To each of these responses the pastor responded that he had tried all of these approaches with his wife and none of them had healed her.  No one on that blog ever suggested that his wife may have a medical condition that needed to be treated by a mental health professional. 

My husband suffers from Thyroid disease.  The Thyroid disease manifests it’s self in a way similar to depression.  He has low energy, is irritable, and feels depressed.   Prior to his diagnosis, there were days that I wondered if we would make it; days I did not want to be around him.  Thankfully, he went to the doctor, went through testing, and they figured out what was wrong.  Every day he takes synthroid to replace what his body is not able to produce on its own.    There are day’s he forgets or runs out and he returns to that grumpy, what I perceive as lazy, unpleasant person.  Had he gone to the church with his symptoms he would have heard the advice I listed above, pray more, meditate more, put God at the center of your life.  All those suggestions are great and may bring temporary relief to his suffering spirit, however,  he would still be sick and in need of medical care.

I am not suggesting that people with depression have thyroid disease, but what I am suggesting is that some people with depression have a medical condition that requires medical treatment and that this is in no way the fault of the person with the condition.  I see so many people who suffer from mental illness who refuse to seek help from a mental health professional and instead turn to the church or to spiritual advisors seeking help.  When they are unable to pray themselves out of their condition, they become defeated, more depressed and feel alienated from God. 

I am not trying to minimize the power of prayer; I believe prayer is core to our spiritual health.  However, I think we often confuse spiritual health and mental health.  I think the two often look very similar.   I personally suffer with situational anxiety.  I lead a very dynamic and often chaotic agency that seems to change daily.  I work with individuals who are themselves very fragile, many of whom suffer from mental illness which makes our work environment one of constant challenges.  Conflict and change create anxiety and I have not yet learned to manage either as well as I would like.  However, I do not suffer from an anxiety disorder.  My anxiety is directly linked to my work environment.   If I stay in prayer and remember that God is in control of the chaos, then I am able to manage my anxiety.  When I fail to pray or begin to think that somehow I am in control of the agency, I become overwhelmed by anxiety and I either shut down or try to take control of things both of which lead to more anxiety and conflict.  My issues can be managed through healthy spiritual practices and do not require medical treatment.

However, I think as people of faith and spiritual leaders, we must recognize that there are mental conditions that can only be managed through medical treatment.  It takes discernment for pastoral care providers to recognize when an issue is bigger than ones spirituality.  None of us would go to our primary care physician for neurosurgery.  However, there are spiritual leaders who are treating serious mental illness as a simple lack of faith; this is like treating cancer like a common cold.  This is not only disturbing, it is dangerous.  I have personally almost lost three people to suicide in the last year alone, all of whom felt that if God wanted them healed then they would be healed.  Not finding that healing, they assumed their life was not worth living.  I recently saw one of these individuals and he shared that after his suicide attempt, he was put on anti-depressants and that he now is able to manage his depression.  As a pastor, it is hard to admit that I did not have what Joe needed, but I am thankful that God led him to a source of healing.  I pray we as people of faith and especially pastoral care providers will learn more about mental illness and will develop better partnerships with mental health professionals.    I pray that the community of faith would begin to talk openly and honestly about mental health and that we would treat the victims of these illnesses like we do any other sick person who is seeking treatment, instead of blaming the patient and telling the patient to heal themselves, we would instead drive them to the doctor and pray for their healing.

 

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The church of Alcoholics Anonymous

A year ago our ministry began partnering with The Healing Place which is a 197 bed homeless shelter for men in recovery.  The program is based on the 12 step recovery process of Alcoholics Anonymous.  It is an intensive program with most men spending six to nine months working through the twelve steps and focusing all their attention on their recovery.  They are not allowed to work and spend all their time in classes and working through an intensive program called “Recovery Dynamics”.  It is a free program and for most their last hope.

We have recently hired six Healing Place graduates and I have been amazed by their faith and deep spirituality.  I had never had any experience with AA or NA and knew nothing about the program.  As I have questioned them about the spiritual component of the program, I became even more intrigued when many of them shared that it was through recovery that they came to know “the God of their understanding”.  One even shared that he belongs to the metaphorical “Church of Alcoholics Anonymous”.  Few of them have strong ties to the local church but instead find fellowship, support and spiritual nourishment from their AA “home group”.  I asked my friend who views AA as his home church why he did not attend church and he said “Maybe if Christians worked on living their faith with as much dedication as the alcoholics of my AA groups worked their recovery, I would be more interested in Church.” 

That was a stunning and challenging statement.  These men attend an average of three AA meetings per week; they read out of the AA “Big book” and quote it more proficiently than we Christians quote the Good Book.  It is a form of religion for those who truly seek healing and freedom from their illness and millions have found the healing they seek through these fellowships and the study of this text.  This is not surprising once one realizes that it was written by a group of Christians who desired to make the healing they had found available to all.  While the use of words like “God of your understanding” can seem foreign and to some un-Christian, there is no denying that these men have been healed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

No, the dedication of those in recovery is not the shocking part; the more shocking part is the lack of dedication exhibited by most professing Christians.  Why is it that Christians do not place the same importance on gathering together, supporting one another, the study of scripture and of doing good works? I was pondering this question with my new friend Jim and he gave me this answer “Perhaps it’s because our very life depends on our participation in the fellowship of AA.” 

What a profound thought.  What if our very life, not the life ever after, but our very life here on this earth depended on being a part of the Christian community.  What if we believed that we could only be the person God created us to be by being connected to a Christian community?  The problem we face as American Christians is that we do not see our own disease.  Our disease is the disease of complacency, of apathy, of contentment with the life we are leading.   There is nothing in our lives that we are powerless over.  There is no need for a God of our understanding our own understanding has become our God.  We have never done battle with the forces of darkness and thus, we do not depend on God’s grace to take us through each day the way my new friends do.

I would not trade places with them for all the world.  I watch as they walk the tight rope of addiction, everyday praying they do not stumble all the time knowing there is no safety net below them.  It is a terrifying way to live, but somehow, those who are doing it well, have a peace that passes understanding.  A peace that escapes me as I continue to lean on my own understanding and my own power, unaware that I am on that same tight rope, simply walking with a blindfold, unaware of my own spiritual battle.

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